Even a blissful union can hit a rough patch—so we had experts share their best relationship advice to help you and S.O. build a stronger, healthier bond
Love Lane is wrought with roadblocks: While we may not talk about it, cheating, big fights, or morals that suddenly seem to clash can all be common consequences of a relationship. And if you've ever transformed from a blissful union into a bickering couple, you've probably found yourself wondering: Can my relationship be saved?
The details are different for everyone, and while, ultimately, choosing to stay together through hard times is up to you, the good news is that you can save a sinking relationship—if you both decide to work at it, that is. (But if someone is consistently making you feel unsafe or unloved, is unwilling to change their behavior, or they affect your self-esteem, it's time to walk away, says Susan Healy, a relationship expert and therapist.)
If you're both committed, putting in the labor for love could help you come out stronger in the long run. Allow these four women below—who beat tough scenarios to fall back in love—show you how it's done. (And make sure to go over these 8 Relationship Checks All Couples Should Have for a Healthy Love Life.)
The Issue: You Realize You Two May Be More Different Than You Thought
The real life example: Jessica, 26, and her boyfriend, Charlie, had been dating for almost a year when she suddenly hit a wall. The problem: They had completely different ideas of what a Sunday should look like. "He liked to be really lazy, because he's constantly go-go-go at work during the week," she recalls. "But I love being active, like taking a long run or checking out a farmers market, and can't sit inside and watch TV all day, especially when it's a gorgeous day." One day, she exploded. "I told him I couldn't go on like this, and that we had to talk about it," she says.
The fix: In this case, venting was actually the right choice—and now she only wishes she did so earlier. The best way to elicit change, says Joe Taravella, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at NYU, is to communicate clearly how you feel—and to truly listen to each other. After a heartfelt conversation, the two got to the bottom of it: Charlie felt like he worked so hard during the week that he deserved to veg out, but Jessica felt rejected for the TV. But they listened to each other, and now, Sundays are different. "Sometimes, I'll go out and do my own thing while he hangs out at home, but usually he'll plan an activity we can do together, like grocery shopping and cooking dinner, going for a hike, or just getting outside for a while," Jessica says.
Scheduling time together is a great way to help couples reconnect and help a neglected partner feel wanted and secure, Taravella confirms. It might sound corny, but little actions like putting a date on the calendar can help two people get back into the groove, he says.
The Issue: Your Life Plans Change
The real life example: Most people have a general idea of how our life is going to turn out—and whether we admit it or not, it's disconcerting when things don't go as planned. "I thought I would work in New York City for four years then settle down in my Texas hometown," Allison, 28, says. "But after three years in the city, I started dating my now-fiancé—a born-and-bred New Yorker—who has a job he loves here and who didn't see himself living in the south." After they'd been dating for a couple years and started talking marriage (and staying in NYC), Allison found herself lashing out at him over smaller issues, like laundry or weekend plans, and couldn't figure out why.
The fix: Allison talked with close friends and a therapist, and soon realized that their bickering was a result of her feeling like a wrench had been thrown in her life plan. "Thanks to therapy, I learned how to readjust the way I looked at my future and that we both had to compromise," she explains. A trick that helped: "Whenever we got in fights, I asked him to hold my hand while we talk, which really helps," Allison says. "There's something about holding hands that takes away that uncontrollable angry feeling and pushes us both toward empathy." In the end, the couple decided to spend a few more years in New York so he could establish his career and later plan to move elsewhere to raise a family. Jessica adds, "I always keep in mind something that my grandmother told me: It doesn't matter what city you live in, as long as you're happy—which is definitely true for both of us." (Here are 8 of Life’s Biggest Shake-Ups, Solved.)
The Issue: You're Lashing Out
The real life example: We've all been there: You see your S.O. chatting with another woman at the bar, and, especially if you've had a couple drinks, it's tempting to pick a blowout fight right then and there. Lauren, 25, can relate. "My boyfriend is very social and outgoing—more so than I am—and there are lots of times when he's chatting away at a party or a bar, sometimes with other women, while I stand off to the side," she admits. "Once, I walked up to him, dragged him out of the bar, and yelled at him on the street. It was embarrassing, and we almost broke up over it."
The fix: Rather than tell him off, take a step back. If your partner makes you feel safe and loved and is attentive overall, Healy says, some flirting can be totally innocent. And consider whether you could be experiencing some self-esteem issues or other reasons why you're feeling so vulnerable. In Lauren's case, she realized her insecurity was more about a past boyfriend who cheated. "The more aware you are of your own emotions and feelings, the better equipped you can be to tackle joint problems you may face as a couple," Healy says.
However, as Taravella stressed above, communication is key, so feel free to talk with him about it. Just be careful of the language you use: "Try to use 'I statements' instead of 'you statements' so your partner doesn't feel defensive," Taravella suggests. "Instead of saying 'How could you?' or 'You're such a jerk!' explain, 'I'm hurt when I see you talk to other people at the bar and I feel a little ignored.'" This can help deflate situations that may otherwise explode.
The Issue: You Stop Prioritizing Love
The real life example: After Linda Bloom and her husband married at a young age, they were both getting graduate degrees, working full-time, and raising a child. "There were so many times when I didn't know whether our marriage was what I really desired or simply an arrangement designed to keep the family intact," recalls Bloom, now a relationship counselor and author of 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married.
When things got tense, it took a tender, loving moment with her husband on a vacation—sans baby—for Bloom to realize how necessary a break from the ordinary can be. "Interrupting the daily routine with a getaway, whether it's to a beautiful vacation destination or an free afternoon that we have carved out of our busy schedule, isn't a luxury, it's a necessity," she explains.
The fix: "As Woody Allen once said, 'A relationship is like a shark, if it doesn't keep moving, it dies,'" Bloom says. It's easy to expect everything to be a-OK, especially in the early years of marriage, but this belief inevitably sets us up for great disappointment, as well as the likelihood of feeling resentment or inadequacy, she explains. "Both sides have to do the work, which means not being preoccupied our partner's perceived flaws, and directing our concern instead to our own feelings and reactions, and handling them consciously and responsibly." (Can't make it away? Try these Steamy Sex Tips to Have Epic Vacation Sex at Home.)